The modern medieval Church

No, this blog post will not be about history, and not even about anything medieval very much, apart from using that word. I want to take about the word ‘medieval’ as some sort of accusation against the Church. Is she really some sort of old-fashioned institution when she asserts her own teachings, and if so, is that a bad thing?

Bishop Jan LiesenReason for this post is some action undertaken by Bishop Jan Liesen of Breda, who forbade an address about near-death experiences by a speaker who is known to dabble in esoteric things that are rather at odds with Catholic teachings and faith. This address would have been no exception, and it was to take place in a church, so the bishop certainly had a say about the matter.

Opponents of the decision disagree with the timing of the decision (which sounds reasonable, as it was rather last-minute, and finding a different location to host 300 guests turned out to be problematic on short notice), but some then go on to attack the decision itself. It is a step back, they say, and purely medieval.

What Bishop Liesen did here, and what other priests and bishops have done in the past, is one of their main duties: the protection of the faith and shepherding the flock entrusted to them. They are tasked with an adherence to the treasure that the Church guards: the entire body of the faith that came to her from Christ. The bishops can and should do so pro-actively, by promoting the Christian life of their faithful, but also by responding to those things that would endanger that life.

Bishop Liesen’s action is not so much about being authoritative, about displaying power and forbidding people to do things. Rather, he acts against something that would, at the very least, sow confusion. After all, if some event takes place in a church, it is logical to assume that it must therefore be something that the Church wants to support, and that agrees with what she teaches. And in this case, and so many others, the opposite is true.

Is that medieval? Perhaps it is, if you adhere to an idea about the Middle Ages that is mostly about authority. Authority is not a bad thing. It is what our society is based, and our Church no less. In order to shepherd and teach there must be authority.

Truth is unattainable by consensus. And that is akin to heresy in the ears of many modern people. It is old-fashioned to correct, medieval to say no to something. So, if that’s true, Church: by all means, be old-fashioned, be medieval. Let the authority of Christ shine through, and may his followers be open to His transforming grace. That is truly looking forward, and therefore not old-fashioned at all.

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold

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Fire island – St. Clement’s no more

st. clement amelandJust before day broke today, a raging fire reduced the church of St. Clement in Nes, on the island of Ameland, to ashes. Only the walls of the island’s sole Catholic church remain standing, the mayor of the island has said.

The devastating fire comes just two days after the new pastoral team was presented by the bishop. Under the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden’s consolidation of parishes, the local island parish is to be united with several mainland parishes. Parish priest Fr. Paul Verheijen travelled to the island this morning to support the local community.

Bishop Gerard de Korte calls the situation “dramatic”, but expects the church to be rebuilt and the local Protestant communities to be hospitable to the Catholic faithful on Ameland.

The church of St. Clemens was the church where Cardinal Jan de Jong, archbishop of Utrecht from 1936 to 1955, was baptised and where he offered his first Mass. In his days, the territory of Groningen-Leeuwarden was still part of the Archdiocese of Utrecht. The church was a national monument, built in 1877 by famed architect Pierre Cuypers, who also designed the diocese’s cathedral of St. Joseph in Groningen.